Every year about 18,000 new species are added to the annals of the earth’s biodiversity. To date, scientists have described and named about 2 million species on planet earth. Unbelievably, these same scientists believe there are no less than 10 million more species that remain unknown and unnamed.
Sadly, however, some are going extinct before even being discovered. Others such as the adorable bug-eyed tarsier, known as the Siau Island Tarsier, were first described and put on “a critically endangered list” the same year. Others, such the Cryptic Forest Falcon, are doing just fine with or without human acknowledgement.
This list showcases just ten of the newest species to western science, but I hope your world will be a richer place today knowing that these extraordinary creatures exist.
SpongeBob Square Pants Fungus
Yes, this is for real – this newly discovered tropical fungus, Spongiforma squarepanstii, is named after the sophomoric cartoon character, SpongeBob Square Pants. Why? Squarepanstii, which is found in Borneo on the rainforest floor, has spongelike qualities – and it smells like pineapple. And don’t we all know that Spongebob Square Pants lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea (well, I didn’t, but now I do)?
When the name squarepanstii was proposed, the editors of the journal, Mycologia rejected it for being “too frivolous.” But Dr. Desjardin, co-discoverer of the new fungi, didn’t back down: “We insisted that although the science might be their business, we could name it whatever we liked. We need a little frivolity in this stodgy old science we love.”
Bubblicious Pink Millipede
With it’s shockingly bright pink color, you would think someone would have discovered this critter way before 2006, but no, this multi-legged creepy-crawly stayed a secret to humans until just a handful of years ago. Found in Thailand, this dragon millipede is the largest of its genus and brazenly active during the day, as its bright color and almond-like smell (cyanide) warn would-be predators that it is foul-tasting and harmful. Many species of millipede also produce cyanide as a defense chemical and some are red, but Desmoxytes purpurosea is the only millipede that comes in the hue of Bubblicious Bubblegum.
Cryptic Forest Falcon
Sometimes new species are heard first rather than seen, as is the case with this stunning forest falcon found in Myanmar. Micrastur mintoni, called out one day in 2002 and unlike all other days, a ornithologist with highly attuned ears realized this was a bird he had never heard before. It turned out that actually it had been seen before, but because it looked so similar to another falcon, M. givicollis, that it had been misidentified as being the same species until 2002. Ornithologists can be forgiven for the mistake as the only difference in the two birds’ appearances was a single white tail band in addition to a subtle white-tipped tail. The other difference of course, was the distinctive call.
Siau Island Tarsier
In the 21 century it is very rare to discover a new primate species, but indeed that is what happened on the tiny remote South East Asian island of Siau in 2002, when Tarsius tumpara was finally caught by scientists. This adorable bug-eyed tarsier is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but do watch-out as this little primate is completely carnivorous!
The island of Siau is dominated by Mount Karengetang, a highly active and dangerous volcano, that if it blows big-time could wipe-out this species which is found no where else in the world. Upon discovery, the Siau Island Tarsier was added to the list of “The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates” by the IUCN.
Denise’s Pygmy Seahorse
The master of disguise, this pygmy seahorse eluded scientific detection until 2003, when an underwater photographer named Denise Tackett brought it to the attention of two marine biologists. This hiccup of a seahorse can mimic the color and texture of gorgonian coral (where it primarily hides-out) and with its diminutive size (about 1/2 an inch) it is amazing it was found at all. There are eight other pygmy seahorses and they all escaped scientific detection until 1969 when the first one was described.
Next page: Glass Frogs, a Deadly Jelly, a Spiny Pig, an Ant and an Orchid
Mache Mountain Glass Frog
Bio-rich Ecuador keeps providing new species for the world to marvel over. In 2004, this translucent tree frog that looks glass-blown, was discovered in the Mache Mountains and now joins the ranks of 146 other glass frog species. The skin of glass frogs is so transparent that bones and internal organs – including their beating heart – can be seen from their underbelly. Such transparency allows them to blend-in effortlessly with their surrounding leafy environment – and explains why it took scientists so long to find them.
King’s Deadly Jelly
It may be small, it may be hypnotically beautiful, but this new species of box jelly, Malo kingi, produces a venom that is one of the deadliest toxins in the world. Found in Australia, all it takes is a brush against this miniature jellyfish (also known as a sea wasp) for a fatal encounter. Unfortunately, the sting may actually go unnoticed as it isn’t particularly painful, but once the symptoms start to show it is usually too late -cardiac arrest typically happens within twenty minutes. The King’s Deadly Jelly received its name in honor of Robert W. King, an American tourist is Australia who died from a too-close encounter with this new jelly.
My apologies to the Australian tourist board for sharing this unnerving information, but maybe I can redeem myself - and Australia – by also pointing out that human-box jelly encounters are rare.
Yes, this Madagascan ant, Proceratium google, was named after the internet search engine “Google.” Why? The discoverer of the google ant, Dr Brian Fisher, cited the importance of Google Earth software in helping connect people worldwide with the earth’s biodiversity. For example, on Antbase.org you can download a list of all the ant species found in a particular locale whether on a remote tropical island or in your backyard. Furthermore, this little ant is a tireless search engine, says Dr. Fisher, always looking for spider eggs, it’s favorite meal.
Roosmalen’s Hairy Dwarf Porcupine
The word porcupine comes form the French words porc espin, meaning “spined pig.” The Roosmalen’s Hairy Dwarf Porcupine (Coendou roosmalenorum) has the requisite piglet nose and the defensive spines – or quills – but it also has two other types of hair that are longer and thinner than typical quills and are barb-less. Found along the Brazilian river banks of the Rio Maderia, this little spined-pig is also unusual in that its tail length is nearly the same length of its body.
Cherise’s Teagueia Orchid
OK, I couldn’t do a list of fabulous species new to science without including the orchid that was named after me. Yes, it is true, I am the namesake for the miniature plum and yellow Teagueia cherisei orchid found only in the remote Andean cloud forests above the town of Banos, Ecuador. This is how it unfolded: Once upon a time I was an Amazon jungle guide and while living in Ecuador, I met a true 21st century renaissance man named Lou Jost. Lou was not only an extraordinary self-taught painter, naturalist and mathematician, he also was a botanist with the unusual proclivity of finding new orchid species. Every time Lou went on one of his orchid hunting expeditions, he came back with a one or more newly discovered species. When Lou reported one day over lunch that he had now discovered over 25 new species, I jokingly said, “so, when do I get an orchid named after me?!” Little did I know, he would actually do it! ”My” orchid is the first flower (yellow and plum) on the second row in the image below.
Almost a decade later, Lou now has 60 new orchid species discoveries under his belt including the world’s smallest orchid, which is a dew-drop of a flower only 2.1 mm across and with petals so delicate, they are only one cell thick!